Two Words Each Person AND Every Company Must Embrace

Two Words Each Person AND Every Company Must Embrace

One of the constant questions that I am asked is: How do we get better? Leaders want to know how they become better leaders, organizations want to know how they can improve for customers and employees, sales people want to know how to sell more, couples want to know how to improve their marriage, you name it. We all want to get better.

In my talks on Stepping Up Your Game, based on my book Stepping Up, I like to talk about two words we must embrace if we want to step to the next level.

I want to ask you what your relationship is with two key words: Criticism and Comparison. Our relationship with those words is a very good predictor of whether and how much we improve both in our work and personal lives.

Let’s start with the word criticism. Most of us don’t like to be criticized. When we do get criticized, we usually move to a place of defense. We say, “Thanks, but let me explain.” Few of us seek criticism on a regular basis and if we do, we try only to ask the “friendliest” for it. But I think people who keep getting better and companies that constantly improve go out and seek criticism.

Some of you are asking why I didn’t use the word feedback? I could have, but most of us are a lot more comfortable with positive feedback than being criticized. We need positive feedback just as much, but we can handle that already. I want to provoke you to ask if you regularly ask others to tell you where you can do better? Ask your customers where did you mess up? Ask your team members what you need to stop doing as a leader? Ask your life partner what drives you nuts that I can fix?

Many of us think we are better with criticism than we are. Once I asked a coaching client of mine, “So how are you with criticism?” and she said, “I am great with it, whenever there is something to be criticized I always speak up.” So, honesty time, how is your organization with criticism? How are leaders at really hearing what you need to improve?

The second word is Comparison. Now our grandparents told us never to compare ourselves with others. Of course, they were right if your main reason to compare is to assess how you measure up. But comparison is critical to becoming more successful. When I was advising Qantas Airlines on their culture, I was struck by the fact that even though they are routinely named one of the safest airlines in the world, they constantly compare themselves to others to find how they can better themselves.

When it comes to comparison, the better you get, the more you need to start comparing yourselves to different people or companies. When the University of Connecticut wanted to get better, they compared their metrics to five other major universities. Once they were better than those five, they identified another five who were even better. You get the idea.

A corollary of all of this is to make sure you hang out with people better than you. Married couples should have couple friends with much better marriages, parents should spend time with parents who are better than they are, leaders should find out who is more admired and has better numbers and hang out with those leaders. Of course, when you start comparing yourself to people better than yourself, remember it isn’t to make you feel inferior, it is to become like those you admire. Keep comparing and you will get closer to their qualities over time.

So, in your life and in your organization, what is the relationship you have with criticism and comparison. Want it? Don’t want it? Welcome it? Try to avoid it? Seek it or just hope it happens?


Dr. John Izzo has spoken to over one million people, advised over 500 companies, authored nine best-selling books, and helped some of the world's most admired companies. He has been a pioneer in creating successful businesses and emerging work trends for over twenty-five years.

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